Following the US invasion of Iraq, the CIA worked with US troops in 2005 and 2006 to quietly purchase and recover 1980s-era nerve-agent rockets from a clandestine Iraqi seller during the previously undisclosed Operation Avarice, according to a new report.
Operation Avarice led to the destruction of at least 400 Borak
warheads, chemical weapons used by Saddam Hussein’s government
that were reportedly manufactured domestically for Iraq’s war
against Iran during the 1980s.
Pieces of the leftover cache acquired in 2005 and 2006 by the CIA
are believed to have been those not accounted for by the United
Nations following the 1991 Persian Gulf war,
according to the New York Times.
The program was run out of the CIA’s Baghdad station with the aid
of the US Army’s 203rd Military Intelligence Battalion as well as
chemical-defense and explosive ordnance disposal troops,
according to anonymous US officials that spoke to the Times.
Many of the 40-inch Borak rockets recovered were empty, others in
poor shape or contained nonlethal material. Still others were
found to have a higher level of sarin than was expected.
The amount of money paid to the secretive Iraqi Borak seller, the
only person to offer the chemical munitions to the CIA, is
unknown, as are his affiliations.
“Without speaking to any specific programs, it is fair to say
that together with our coalition partners in Iraq, the U.S.
military worked diligently to find and remove weapons that could
be used against our troops and the Iraqi people,” said
Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Times reported.
Lauding the program’s success, retired Army Lt. Gen. Richard P.
Zahner, the highest-ranking American military intelligence
officer in Iraq in 2005 and 2006, said Operation Avarice
neutralized what could have become an arsenal used against the US
and its allies.
“This was a timely and effective initiative by our national
intelligence partners that negated the use of these unique
munitions,” he said.
Yet the disclosure of the program again highlighted the US
military’s secrecy regarding chemical weapons US troops were or
could have been exposed to during the war.
It was revealed in
October that American soldiers discovered more than 4,990
mostly degraded chemical munitions in Iraq, yet veterans are now
grappling with the effects of chemical exposure that the military
did not adequately share with troops or the public.
have claimed their medical care following this exposure has
been substandard, partly because military doctors were unaware of
the presence of chemical weapons in Iraq.
“If we were aware of these compounds, and as it became clear
over the course of the war that our troops had been exposed to
them, why wasn’t more done to protect the guys on the
ground?” said Aaron Stein, an associate fellow at the Royal
United Services Institute.
“It speaks to the broader failure.”
The US support for Iraq in its war against neighboring Iran is
“Reagan/Bush administrations permitted—and frequently
encouraged—the flow of money, agricultural credits, dual-use
technology, chemicals, and weapons to Iraq,” ABC’s Nightline
reported in 1992.
In 1994, US Sen. Donald Riegle released a report — “U.S.
Chemical and Biological Warfare-Related Dual Use Exports to Iraq
and their Possible Impact on the Health Consequences of the Gulf
War” — that detailed how the US supplied biological
research materials to Iraq.
“Records available from the supplier for the period from 1985
until the present show that during this time, pathogenic,
toxigenic, and other biological research materials were exported
to Iraq pursuant to application and licensing by the U.S.
Department of Commerce. Records prior to 1985 were not available,
according to the supplier. These exported biological materials
were not attenuated or weakened and were capable of
Operation Avarice began after the US military recovered a small
collection of Borak warheads in 2005. The seller would
occasionally notify the CIA when he had more for sale, officials
said, meeting with American handlers of the program in Iraq’s
southeast region to hand off the weapons.
The Boraks were disposed of afterwards, most by detonation,
officials said. Some were taken to Camp Slayer, near Baghdad’s
airport, for testing.
Sarin analysis of the warheads in 2005 found purity level as high
as 13 percent, higher than expected. Borak sarin samples found in
2004 had yielded purity levels no more than 4 percent. One
internal record from 2006 referenced “agent purity of up to
25 percent for recovered unitary sarin weapons.”
The relationship between the Borak seller and his American
negotiators began to sour, NYT indicated, as the CIA and US
troops increasingly pushed for more information on the cache.